Next Stop: The Great State of Alabama

The documentation of African American “spaces and places” has been identified as a goal of the Southern Historical Collection, and to that end we have successfully partnered with the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA). We are working with the leaders and community members of various towns to help them leverage their impressive histories to generate cultural tourism and a sense of pride among their citizens. The SHC curatorial team has made visits to these towns to examine archival materials for research and historic value, as well as making recommendations about preservation and potential community documentation initiatives.

Façade of New Hope Baptist Church, Hobson City, Alabama

Façade of New Hope Baptist Church, Hobson City, Alabama

In the second week of December 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting both Hobson City and Tuskegee, Alabama.

Hobson City, Alabama was founded in August 1899 by a group of African Americans when they were politically excluded from the neighboring town of Oxford, Alabama. This made Hobson City the first all Black municipality in Alabama. Through changes in society, industry, and the economy; the town has maintained itself for 115 years. My hosts shared with me the incredible significance of the Calhoun County Training School, the five local churches, and Holloways (a club that was a stop on the illustrious chitlin circuit). One of the highlights of the trip was the delicious barbeque ribs and coleslaw from Brad’s BBQ!

(l-r) Carthell Green, Mayor Alberta McCrory, and Barnard Snow, looking at artifacts in Hobson City

(l-r) Carthell Green, Mayor Alberta McCrory, and Barnard Snow, looking at artifacts in Hobson City

Artwork near the mayor's office in the municipal complex, Tuskegee, Alabama

Artwork near the mayor’s office in the Municipal Complex, Tuskegee, Alabama

I thought that I knew a lot about Tuskegee; starting with the University, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Syphilis Experiment. While all of these elements are commemorated in museums and archives, there is a history of a community in Tuskegee that is not very well known. In the 1923, a Veteran’s hospital, staffed by Black doctors and nurses, was established to care for Black soldiers who fought in World War 1. Dyann Robinson, formerly of the Dance Theater of Harlem is the artistic director of the Tuskegee Repertory Theater. Deborah Grey is the director of the Tuskegee Civil and Human Rights and Multicultural Center which tells the story of Tuskegee from the original indigenous inhabitants to the election of its first Black mayor, Mr. Johnny Ford, in 1972.

Chaitra and Mayor Johnny Ford stand in the middle of the Tuskegee History Committee and various city officials, Tuskegee, Alabama

Chaitra and Mayor Johnny Ford stand in the middle of the Tuskegee History Committee and various city officials, Tuskegee, Alabama

Both visits were incredibly informative and signal the beginning of a long series of partnerships between the Southern Historical Collection and diverse communities throughout the American South.


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Happy Holidays! A Highlighted Collection for the Holiday Season

To entertain your family this holiday season, the SHC wants to highlight a digital collection that may provide you with some historical family fun. The Mini Page Archive houses digital versions of the four page features that appeared in over 500 newspapers weekly. The Mini Page was created as an educational and fun tool for children, which covered topics included in school curricula. Many of them also covered current events in an easy to understand style with activities and recipes meant for children. The archive provides digital access to every issue from 1969-2007.  The creator of The Mini Page, Betty Debnam, did much of the work herself during the nearly forty years documented in the archive.

Each issue of The Mini Page contains brief reporting and fun activities that are an exciting way to explore history with children, or even adult family members, this holiday season. The archive has holiday themed issues for each year, with suggested activities meant to spark engagement. For example, the pages from the issue highlighted here explore different holiday customs from different countries, and provide ideas for ways to get kids talking about cultural differences. Feel free to explore this awesome resource!

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Preserving Historical Perspectives: Pearl Harbor and Mississippi Histories at the SHC

This Week in History

On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This attack is what led to the United States entering World War II.

Below is an address delivered by the then Dean of Administration R.B. House to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill student body after the attack. In it he explains what he sees as the role the students and the University should play in winning the war. Even though he urged students to stay in class and wait to be drafted if that’s what the government decided, many students left school to join the army.

Folder 36, in the R. B. House Papers #3581, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Folder 36, in the R. B. House Papers #3581, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



This Day in History

Happy Birthday Mississippi! On December 10, 1817, Mississippi was the 20th state admitted to the Union.

Folder 02872, in the Otis Noel Pruitt and Calvin Shanks Photographic Collection #05463, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Folder 02872, in the Otis Noel Pruitt and Calvin Shanks Photographic Collection #05463, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Above is a picture of women in costume from Columbus, Mississippi.

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Keeping it cool, dry, and constant

Contributed by Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Outreach Archivist

A few weeks ago, SHC Director Bryan Giemza and I traveled to the Mississippi Delta to discuss the preservation of several archival collections found in the area. During the visit I couldn’t turn my archivist brain off – I couldn’t help but ruminate on the physical environment around us, especially as it relates to the preservation of archival materials there. I realized that the Mississippi Delta is a very hostile place for paper!

Fresh from this experience, and since we often get questions from the public about the proper storage of personal and family collections at home, I thought I’d offer a few basic guidelines that I’ve learned from working in the field. And perhaps this is the best time of year to consider this, since it is a time when many of you are pulling out Christmas decorations from storage, clearing space in your closets for winter coats, or bringing out old photographs from your personal archives to scan for that awesome (or awkward?) DIY holiday calendar that you plan to give to all your loved ones this year.


The sun beats down on the Delta – even in November.

Paper preservation experts, such as the Northeast Document Conservation Center and the preservation section of the National Archives, agree on three basic environmental factors for safe storage of documents, photographs, films and other treasures. The storage environment should be:

  • Cool,
  • Dry, and
  • Constant

Three things the Mississippi Delta is not! For example, look what the Delta’s hot and humid climate has done to the paint on the ceiling of one of the buildings that we visited during our trip.


But how cool is cool? And how dry, and how constant? Well, documents and photographs are a lot like human beings. Both are “comfortable” in an environment that:

  • is about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • is kept at 40-50% relative humidity (RH)
  • has clean air and good circulation.

Temperature extremes and fluctuations speed up the chemical breakdown of paper that causes them to become brittle or discolored.  Also, excess moisture can result in mold growth and other archival nightmares.

So, where’s the best place in your home to store family collections? It certainly depends on specific environmental factors in your home, but often the best place to store family collections is in the interior part of the living space within your home, like inside a hall closet, where you know things will stay nice and cool, dry, and constant. Also, an added bonus of a hall closet is that collections stay in the dark, out of harmful sunlight.

Just remember: would you want to live in a leaky barn in the Delta? Or in a musty crawlspace under the house? Or in a hot garage?

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Happy Thanksgiving from the SHC!

What would Thanksgiving be without the turkey? Below is an excerpt from an article written by Doug Storer called “Let’s Talk Turkey.” It explains how the turkey became synonymous with Thanksgiving. Doug Storer was a radio producer, talent agent, and writer responsible for creating and producing radio programs from the 1930s – 1960s, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In 1960, he started a similar franchise and titled it Amazing But True. It included books, radio shows, newspaper columns, and films. The article below was written for Amazing But True in 1971. To read the whole thing, come visit us after the holiday!


Folder 197, in the Doug and Hazel Anderson Storer Collection #5231, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Folder 197, in the Doug and Hazel Anderson Storer Collection #5231, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


As you can see, turkey has been enjoyed on Thanksgiving by Americans for a very long time. Below is an extravagant Thanksgiving Menu from 1916, where they are planning to eat “Roast young Vermont turkey, English dressing, cranberry jelly.”

Folder 4, in the Emily London Short Papers #5181, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Folder 4, in the Emily London Short Papers #5181, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


We hope that you have a delicious day!

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Ms. Powell goes to the State of Black Research Collections Conference (New York, NY)

As you can tell the staff of the Southern Historical Collection is working hard to bring fresh content to our new and improved blog platform. For my part, I will be sharing the most recent highlights of my experience in the stacks, on campus, and around the town, state, country, or the world (wishful thinking). I imagine that this will be helpful for aspiring archivists and anyone who enjoys the process of discovery.

The facade of the Bryant Park branch of the New York Public Library, October 31, 2014.

The facade of the Bryant Park branch of the New York Public Library, October 31, 2014.

During Halloween weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the State of Black Research Collections conference at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The conference was intended for anyone who had an interest in African American archives which included museum directors, teachers, archivists, artists, and scholars. The sessions were highly interactive and all of the participants were encouraged to speak up in order to have our comments and observations featured in an upcoming white paper. The organizers were able to host the conference with funds from a Mellon grant, apparently a gathering like this had not happened in the last 20 years! Do you know how much could happen in 20 years? Not the least of which is the evolution of an entire segment of the archives. To give you the proverbial gut check, Kurt Cobain and TuPac Shakur both died 20 years ago, it feels like we have been living without them for a lifetime.

Some of the issues discussed in the conference included funding, supporting young professionals, aggregating collections, collecting current events, working with audio visual materials, and outreach to communities other than traditional scholars. Representatives from the Amistad Research Center (New Orleans, LA), Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.), and the California African American Museum (Los Angeles, CA) and many places in between gave presentations. The director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, Howard Dodson, gave the key note address, focusing on the growth of Black collections from the rare books of Mr. Schomburg himself to the highly disparate collections that we steward today. I appreciated the way that museums, libraries, and archives of all sizes were asked to participate and we were able to see how many of our challenges and goals are essentially the same. After the first day of traditional sessions and plenaries, the second day was all about “moving the needle forward”, where we worked as a group to share ideas about what the next steps might be. I’ll save this content for the white paper, but one popular idea was the establishment of a professional organization that serves black research collections, wouldn’t that be a sight to see!

I would be remiss if I did not share with you sense of wonder just outside the walls of the Schomburg, located on 135th Street and Malcom X Blvd, also known as Lenox Ave. Directly across the street is the Harlem Hospital Center, which has murals, paintings, and sculptures, from Work Progress Administration artists like Charles Alston (papers at the SHC), Alfred Crimi, and Georgette Seabrooke. The sculpture adorning the entrance, Untitled (Family) is by John Rhoden.

Facade of the Harlem Hospital Center, October 31, 2014

Facade of the Harlem Hospital Center, October 31, 2014

Ten blocks south is the incomparable Apollo Theater, Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building. 125th Street is considered Harlem’s main street as it is serviced by buses and trains and has been the site of so many commercial and entertainment options for African Americans for close to 100 years. This was the home of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, where poets like Langston Hughes, and musicians like Duke Ellington, and writers like Zora Neale Hurston. The Cotton Club where a young Lena Horne got her start was on 142nd and Lenox Ave. Ella Fitzgerald was the first winner of amateur night at the Apollo Theater and went on to perform with the band at the Savoy Ballroom (140th and Lenox Ave.) in 1934.

Chaitra rubbing the famed, "tree of hope" on statge at the iconic Apollo Theater, November 1, 2014.

Chaitra rubbing the famed, “tree of hope” on statge at the iconic Apollo Theater, November 1, 2014.

As a sophomore in high school, I was completely enchanted by these figures and to be fortunate enough to occupy the spaces of my idols was a real treat indeed. Perhaps Billy Strayhorn and I have something in common as we have lived in Orange County, NC but our hearts stay on an “A train” uptown.



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Staff Profile: Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

Contributed by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

What do you do for the Southern Historical Collection? 

My chief responsibility is to build and develop a high-research-value Collection, and to preserve the items in our care.  An important part of that process is connecting talented people who are passionate about the Collection with the resources to achieve its vision.  I’m enjoying playing a part in shaping that vision, too.


At work in a storage unit in Oxford, Mississippi

My work as director is tremendously varied, which is one of the fun things about the position.  On any given day I might be traveling a backroad or rummaging in an attic to appraise a collection, meeting with donors and colleagues to solicit input, or making a presentation on some aspect of the work we do.  It’s my astonishing good fortune to meet with cultural creators and innovators of every description, and to take part in the larger exchange of ideas about the history and culture of a fascinating region.

What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?

My journey to the SHC unfolded as part of an academic path.  You can learn more about my background by having a look at my curriculum vitae. I’m a graduate of Notre Dame and UNC (tarheel born and bred), and I count myself a “graduate” of the Appalachian Trail, too.  As a graduate of UNC Law, I’ve taught courses in law, the environment, and the humanities, too.

Prior to arriving at the SHC, I was a tenured associate professor of American Literature at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. So, what I did was what professors do: I wrote and edited five books, I taught lots of courses in history and literature, and, most rewarding, I tried to make a difference in my students’ lives in my capacity as a teacher, mentor, fellow sojourner. I’m continuing on the academic journey, with several books in the pipeline, and teaching opportunities—but with the SHC, I have a wonderful new canvas and new ways of directing my energies.

How did you get into this line of work?

As a literary scholar with a historical turn of mind, it might be said that the SHC has always been a central part of my work, always been a companion. I’ve benefited immensely from its resources as a researcher, and my career has been shaped by its centrality in the academic understanding of American and regional culture.  I’ve been inspired by, and benefited from, the organizations, publications, and partners that have grown out of the Collection: The Center for the Study of the American South, the Southern Oral History Project, the Southern Folklife Collection, and the journal Southern Cultures. Not to mention the great programs in American studies, folklore, history, and literature.  For someone with my intense curiosity, it’s a delight to be at the hub where all these things come together.

I have some other important jobs, too: I’m a father and husband and occasional swamper. I love to write, and I’m currently at work on a novel. It’s a kind of morally purposeful thriller, set in the coastal Carolinas and Central Americas of the 1970s, about a Vietnam veteran turned smuggler.


With Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou, MS

What do you like about your job?

E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  And I’m not exaggerating.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t marvel at how fortunate I am to be a part of the Southern Historical Collection and the University.  We have a young, energetic, and inspired team here at the SHC, and I learn from my colleagues every day.  I get to see how circles of generosity ripple outward. As I like to say, we’re in the business of outrageous generosity, which is the very best business, after all.  Most of all, I like the way the job allows me to pursue service to others, which, as Bill Friday often suggested, is key to a meaningful life.

I recently heard an anecdote from friends in the North Carolina Collection about Charles Kuralt’s father.  It was said that he planted trees and worked on landscaping at every place the family lived, even when they were renters.  This didn’t quite compute for young Charles, since they would be moving on, but his father pointed out that you should always leave a place better than you found it.  When I was moonlighting in wetland restoration during graduate school, I saw the truth of that as we planted trees to establish forests that we would not see during our lifetime.  The best jobs, I think, are never finished, and you may not get to see the ends.  Similarly, the best stories don’t end, and the SHC is a continuously written chapter in the larger volume of history.  We might be the longest-standing collection of our type, and we are only beginning….


A Mississippi delta sunrise on the horizon

What are you working on right now? What are some new and exciting projects on the horizon?

Right now I’m focused on leading the strategic planning process for the Southern Historical Collection, and aligning our work with the vision of Wilson Library, the University Library, and the many academic communities and constituencies we serve.  We have a clear sense of where we want to be in five years, and we are setting out with a unified plan and sense of purpose. I’m excited about gathering the resources to realize our vision, and to grow the collection in new areas and with new initiatives. For example, I’m developing plans to reach out to the Latino communities that are an important part of our state and region, and that will make crucial contributors to our collections.

I’m just coming back from an energizing trip in which Biff Hollingsworth and I crisscrossed the state of Mississippi: four days, five collections, six or more donor meetings, and over 700 miles. And at least two catfish suppers.  One promising element from the trip that is on the horizon: a chance to support the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance.  We are privileged to have a chance to participate in building sustainable communities through historic preservation!

P.S. I’m going to follow Chaitra and offer a little help in pronouncing my (Polish) surname: it’s pronounced GEM-za, with a hard G, to rhyme with stem-za…!

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Happy Halloween! Haunting North Carolina Ghost Stories

1376Preparing for Halloween around the SHC can get a little spooky! Wandering through Wilson Library’s dark and silent stacks may uncover some truly spine-tingling tales. The archive documents many stories that hold cultural importance for the South, including some creepy North Carolina ghost stories.

A journalist, and active University of North Carolina Alum, named John Harden, compiled records of well-known ghost stories from different areas in North Carolina. Out of these grew two books, Devil’s Tramping Ground and Tar Heel Ghosts. The tales tell chilling supernatural events from familiar North Carolina locations. In 1955, WUNC television produced some of these stories as short programs. From the script drafts and illustrations for these shows, I’ll summarize two of the spookiest stories for you, to set the mood for a truly spook-tacular Halloween!

Colonial Apparition

This truly hair rising tale is a sailors’ story of terrifying apparitions seen on a stormy sea near the appropriately named Cape Fear, North Carolina. Legend from the area tells of two Scotsmen who were executed by the British during the American Revolution, between Wilmington and Southport on the Cape Fear River. African-American superstition in the 19th century told of two ghostly apparitions appearing during storms at the same spot.

One evening a well-known Captain, Captain John M. Harper was sailing the haunted stretch of river between Wilmington and Southport. The weather started to turn stormy and cold. In the darkness, some of the men on his boat began recounting times during which these ghosts had been seen. One man suggested that the two ghosts were probably the Scotsmen looking for a ship to carry them home. As the wind and the rain got worse, one man on Captain Harper’s ship saw an apparition clutching the railing, with a beard encrusted in ice. The crewman tried to save him from falling overboard, but the man disappeared. Returning to the captain, he reported what he had seen.  To keep the men calm, Captain Harper began joking about how they should watch out for more ghosts.

As the weather grew worse they began passing the plantation where ghosts had been seen previously. All the crew grew more and more uneasy. A shrill shrieking sounded across the water from the direction of shore.  The screams began getting louder and louder coming from a spot where colonial ships used to anchor. An object began to take shape in the darkness, and an impossibly ancient, seaweed-covered barge appeared before them.

Colonial Apparition001

The Captain ordered the crew to help the barge. But no sooner had they begin to throw a line, than they saw two figures dressed in Scottish garb wrapped in chains on board. The ghostly figures reached toward Captain Harper’s ship. As soon as they tried to pull the rotting barge closer it was swallowed by the angry river waves.

As they continued down the river, they came upon another boat wrecked by the storm. On board were two weakened men who had been shouting for help, revealing the source of the earlier screaming. However, most of the crew remained convinced that some of the unearthly yelling originated from the phantom barge they saw in midst of the terrible storm.

A Haven for Ghosts

A North Carolina man built his dream home near the banks of the Yadkin River upon the foundation of an old tavern. On his first night in the new house he heard what sounded like digging outside. Thinking that the construction men returned to find something, he looked out the window and saw his empty yard. Yet while gazing out into the dark he still heard sounds indicating that there was digging. Concerned, since animals could not be making that noise, he went to look around his property. When he went to turn the bolt on the door– that he carefully locked before bed–he found it already unlocked. Gazing around the property, he saw no evidence of anyone having been near the house. He heard a noise coming from his basement and quickly entered the basement shouting, but no one was there. Determining to investigate more in the morning, he returned to his bedroom. Just as he was about to drift off to sleep he heard the sound of something heavy falling in the room. But when he turned on the light nothing was disturbed.

A haven for ghosts001

As this series of events continued each night with no physical evidence, he began inquiring about it to neighbors and others from the area. They told a tale of a traveler who was rumored to be wealthy. The traveler had stayed in the old tavern after the Civil War on his way home. He was stabbed by a group of thieves looking for his money and buried outside. The thieves, however, were unable to find any money and searched the cellar.  Months later a bag of gold fell from the rafters of the tavern, and many believed this to be the traveler’s money that the thieves were unable to turn up.

Though he was never able to rid himself of the noises in the house, the man began to unearth rumors that every structure built on the old foundation had always burned down, every so often.  A year after the man finished building his house he went on an infrequent trip out of town. When he returned he found that his brand new house had burned down to the original foundation, giving the blackened stones a fresh charcoal coating.

Feel free to check out more of these spooky stories documented in the John Harden Papers, found here in the Southern Historical Collection!

Source for these stories:
From Folders 1879-1897, In the John Harden Papers #4702, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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